Archive for July, 2004

Jabber + Webex!

July 28, 2004

This is big news… thanks to Stowe Boyd for the heads-up, blog entry, and interview with Jabber’s Joe Hildebrand. As Stowe rightly says:

“Jabber’s integration with Webex technology represents another turn of the wheel on the inevitable integration between traditional text based (and soon video and audio based) IM and full-up web conferencing. There will be no hard distinction in thvery near future between these two modalities.”


Extremely cool, naturally very similar to what we’re doing right now at the Knowledge Media Institute with BuddySpace and FlashMeeting.

Check out Stowe’s interview at the link above, and also see the Jabber press announcement.

Democratic National Convention and metablogging

July 27, 2004

1. The Democratic National Convention (DNC), underway right now.

2. Extensive news coverage of the above.

3. Bloggers at the DNC: the definitive index courtesy Technorati.

4. Journalist’s coverage of the bloggers: New York Times article.

5. A blogger’s comment on the journalist coverage of the bloggers: danah boyd’s critique of (4).

6. Blogger’s metacomment on the above blogger’s comment on the journalist’s coverage of the bloggers: Joi Ito on Bloggers at the DNC.

7. Journalist writing about meta-bloggers: LA Times ‘Meta-blogs surf convention blogs’

8. I suppose this makes me a meta-meta-meta-blogger.

But seriously folks: just visit (3) above for the real deal.

The truth about Tablet PC

July 27, 2004


Consider this a medium-term (several months of daily use) hardcore user review. There is TONS of commentary already in all the big review sites and tablet forums etc (just Google around), but here’s the short-and-sweet truth from me, who has owned essentially every gadget in every form factor, on every OS (more or less).

1. After considerable research I opted for the HP TC1100 on the grounds of its compactness/carryability, WiFi, ‘good enough’ horsepower (1GHz P4 version) and ‘chamelion’ nature (pure slate, with detachable keyboard, or combo/laptop style, with decent no-brainer docking station: mix’n’match depending on the occasion). Oh, and I bought extra batteries and power adapters to leave in various convenient locations, so there’s really remarkably little to carry around.

2. I’m a fanatical and very decent touch-typist, so handwriting recognition, while in fact it performs ‘acceptably’ on this machine, is *NOT* actually a critical factor for me! Bluntly: ‘acceptably’ is never good enough if you’re fussy or want to pay attention to other things, like a meeting you’re attending– HOWEVER it really does not matter, because (a) handwritten stuff, when I *DO* need to work that way (see below), simply stored as digital ink, is awesome, and (b) this form factor really shines as an OUTPUT device (reading on a train or on the couch, for example).

3. Some people have moaned about the short-form-factor keyboard/screen combo: when you use the keyboard, the screen sits VERY VERY close to the uppermost keys, because of the clever swivel/reverse-folding design. This was actually a PLUS for me. Especially as a wearer of bifocals, I’ve long noted the incorrect positioning of conventional laptop screens, which are too far away when your hands are correctly positioned for optimal touch typing posture. So guess what? The HP TC1100 keyboard/screen layout (when you need it on the road or in quick bursts that is), is perfect. Yes, the lightweight keyboard wobbles, but it’s a fair tradeoff for this usage pattern.

4. Couch-potato surfing, WiFi news/email reading, etc: awesome. Simply the best form factor yet, for this type of activity. Forget e-books for long-term usage (too hard on your eyes for very very long documents); but for short/medium documents, it’s the bee’s knees.

5. Document markup: *WOWIE-ZOWIE*. Fantastic. Scribbling directly on other people’s Word or PDF documents, and then shipping them back the comments as digital-ink markups (exported to .mht web pages if necessary): just the ticket!! There are some great 3rd-party tools in this niche too, like iMarkup.

6. I’m taking an Open University course (Spanish): my HP TC1100 has *EVERYTHING* on it: all the course materials in PDF, all the course audio in MP3, my scribblings on the exercise book, my dictionaries, vocabulary drills etc. SO even though I said ‘forget e-books’ in item 4 above, the reality is that for 30-60-minute sessions sitting on the couch and doing some Spanish, it is GREAT!

7. Note-taking in meetings and/or browsing meeting-specific documents/memos/notes: in pure slate mode, portrait orientation, in my lap, browsing and scribbling as on a normal notepad is IDEAL. ‘Social etiquette’ is the name of the game here: notepad browsing/scribbling is acceptable, whereas tabletop/laptop keyboard work is downright rude and disconcerting in many contexts… end of story.

8. The downside? This may surprise you. And no, it’s not about the performance. Sure, these devices can always do with being thinner, lighter, faster, cheaper — that will happen. And the ‘subjective throughput’, typically limited by hard disk access speed, is always going to be lower on a portable than on a desktop machine, even a ‘much lower CPU speed’ desktop machine — so no, this device is not my only computer, nor is it ever likely to be. But the real problem is simply this: when reading for extended periods, even with the display that in my opinion is gorgeous, high quality, crystal clear, I get a little ‘seasick’. Go figure! I haven’t seen this mentioned in any review, but it’s one factor that would prevent me from using this device for extended periods (> 90 minutes).

OVERALL: fantastic – get one!

Reading Canter via a newsfeed aggregator…

July 26, 2004


… is like watching The Matrix on a Teletype machine/printer: you not only miss the entire experience, but most of the headlines picked up by the feed are uninteresting at quick glance, whereas the stories themselves usually are pretty good. Sure, better summary style might do the trick, as Jon Udell often writes about, but that would miss the point, and the impact/speed with which worthy items appear. I used to moan about the confusing (non-existing or subtle) quoting convention, but now I’ve told him that I don’t care anymore… where would we be if Marc Canter gave up his shoot-from-the-hip style, and increasingly-rich-media blog pages?

Scott Rafer this common Blogger Feedster problem is for you!

July 25, 2004

In response to an earlier entry of mine about Feedster citation bookmarklets (that I had picked up via Jon Udell’s blog), I was delighted to see a comment appearing on my blog from Feedster’s Scott Rafer, in which he said the following (I know, you could follow this in the comments themselves, but I want to make an additional point further on, so bear with me):

Thanks for thinking of us. Your post showed right up in my Feedster search feeds, but please note that you’ve got a fairly common Feedster.com customer support problem for Blogger.com users. Your permalinks are wrong, so I had a tough time finding your blog. Your RSS feed lists Udell’s entry as the permalink instead of your actual blog entry. Most of the problem is that your HTML template does not have permalink hyperlinks at all.

Trying to help,
Scott Rafer

This was indeed helpful, though in fact I knew of my problems, but hadn’t been able to sort them out.  Actually, my template does have permalink hyperlinks in it – I promise!! … but I haven’t had the patience to delve into the RSS oddities the template generates, so I commented to Scott’s comment as follows:

You said it! Who’s got the time/patience to hack the Blogger -> Feedster RSS tags properly, particularly when changing templates and the new Blogger release wreaks a few changes of their own… bah… if I could humbly suggest an even more dumbed-down Blogger template example from you guys at Feedster (that correctly and unambiguously deals with the titles, posting, and permalink) for us lazy/vanilla users that would be tres cool. Since Blogger spits out Atom auto-magically for users who select the settings option, the problem is to have moderately easy ‘subscribe/syndicate links’ for both Atom and RSS… incredibly for mid 2004, with the stellar growth of both Blogger, Feedster, and newsfeeds/aggregators generally, it is remarkably hard to find out how precisely to achieve this!! I’m probably not the dumbest user out there, so if I’m frustrated by it, you can kind of extrapolate from that… many thanks…

But as soon as I posted that, I couldn’t really be 100% sure that Scott would see it, since he posted to my blog anonymously (other than putting his name in the actual comment itself), so wouldn’t be alerted automatically by email.  And I couldn’t quickly find an email address for him.  Hmmm… interesting; well, Feedster would surely pick up the link to my comment.  Or would it?  Given my buggy template, I couldn’t count on that either!  Aha, but I know that my Atom feed ( http://kmi.open.ac.uk/marc/atom.xml  ) does generate the correct titles, so with the title I’ve cunningly deployed here, maybe Scott will see this posting! 

Heh, a crazy way to carry on a conversation, but that’s partly the idea of this little experimental posting- partially in the public interest, partly in the interest of a specific Scott/Marc conversation unfolding right now, and itself a nifty test of the very Feedster/citation philosophy that triggered this dialogue in the first place, if you see what I mean.

So, I hope you see this Scott – please (a) keep up the great work, first and foremost, and (b) bear in mind that if, as you say, this is “a fairly common Feedster.com customer support problem for Blogger.com users” then it’s indicative of something that nees to be made more bullet-proof/idiot-proof … I think a small handful of very clear and easy-to-find Blogger template examples would do the trick very nicely!!  I found one or two examples on your site (but not easily: I had to pretend to go through the steps of setting up a new feed to re-find the actual examples, and they don’t easily match my template, and don’t make a huge amount of sense to me), but a clear(er) pointer to these and a clearer meshing with the current generation of Blogger templates would be wonderful.   Many thanks!!!

Channel 9

July 23, 2004

BlogOn Speakers: Jeff Sandquist, MS/Channel 9: “Channel 9 combines video blogging, wikis, RSS, and a forums-based comments engine to bring Microsoft and its developers closer together through transparency and dialogue. Channel 9 was inspired by United Airline’s in-flight audio channel of the same name in which passengers can listen in to hear pilots and Air Traffic Control guiding flights in real-time. Jeff and team launched Channel 9 as a rogue effort inside Microsoft on April 5, 2004 without use of traditional advertising or media to promote it. To date, an average of 700,000 developers have visited the site each month including a growing base of over 5,700 developers who post regularly to the site.”

Check out Channel 9.

Read Jeff Sandquist’s blog entry about some of the technology and philosophy.

More ADSL MK Trial saga

July 21, 2004

Question: Will this user-for-32-years-of-the-Internet-since-the-original-ARPAnet-days-and-early-settler-of-the-broadband-wireless-landscape really be the last person in the UK to get domestic broadband?  Here’s a followup to the 12-step saga I began earlier.

[SUMMARY: on-again-off-again-on-again ‘possible’, ‘maybe’, ‘absolutely no way’, ‘I completely give up’ and finally ‘wait a minute, I have an idea…’]
 
Step 13 [of 28 so far]. 5th July 2004, 11:49AM – I email the contents of the open letter/blog posted earlier.

Step 14. 5th July 2004, 12:11PM – within 22 minutes of my just-sent email, the Managing Director of NDO personally intervenes with a very nice email, expressing sympathy and support for the situation, and puts his Call Centre Manager into the loop to ‘take ownership to ensure a resolution is achieved’. I’m impressed (really… remember, I’m trying to tell the straight story here, without being cynical or snyde… this and the next few steps are actually pretty cool!).

15. 5th July 2004, 12:15PM –  Within just 4 further minutes (!!!) of my hearing from the NDO Managing Director (above), the NDO Call Centre Manager indeed emails and phones me to reassure me that he is personally ‘on the case’, and has spoken to BT, and that “some one has gone out to the local exchange to see if there is a problem there and if so  then  they will resolve and inform us when done. If every thing works out fine then they will contact us for engineer visit and we will book this and inform you as to the time and date of the visit, I will do my best to get this resolved as soon as I can”

16. 5th July 2004, 13:36 – I email back with a “Many thanks” and proposed times for a BT engineer callout (to avoid wasted time as on the 5th of July itself).

17. 5th July 2004, 17:38 – NDO responds with confirmation that BT had (erroneously) ‘cleared the fault log’ but that NDO have re-sent the fault report and requested that a BT engineer come out to replace the BT socket with a new plate, since the modem is not synchronizing.

18. 5th July 2004, 17:47 – I respond with more genuine thanks and request clarification about exactly what I need to do.

19. 6th July 2004, 11:18 – NDO says they have been chasing my case ‘up the chain’ in BT and have been told that ‘in the next 3-4 hours’ NDO would receive a full update, meanwhile NDO predicts they will be told “we need to get an engineer out to your premises, which is what should have been done days ago”

20. 6th July 12:15 I email more thanks and my mobile phone number to facilitate further contact/interactions

21. 6th July 16:35 NDO emails me “We have success at last, just spoke to one of the technical guys at BT, who has now passed this to faults with a note to say, ‘book engineer visit’. I have just spoken to the faults team and booked BT engineer to come out tomorrow (7th July 2004) between 3.30 and 6pm.”

22. 7th July 18:46 – BT engineer visits house!!  But to no avail, as I email to NDO:
“Well, the guy did indeed come out to the house, testing everything (NO LUCK), went back to the exchange to double-check things, and came back with final verdict “we are too far from the exchange” (>8 km).  Aargh. What next? I have a ‘fallback’ position, which is that I have an entirely *SEPARATE* (and NEWER) ISDN line, on xxxx xxxxxx, and would happily scrap that if I could be upgraded to ADSL, but of course ISDN lines are ineligible for this trial. Bah.
Over to you… help!!!”

23. 08 July 2004 10:57 – NDO emails with genuine sorrow that it hasn’t worked, pointing out that all my money will be refunded, and I can post back the ADSL modem and the cost for that will be refunded as well (except for “We will not be able to refund you for delivery”).  Regarding my fallback theory, they say

“It’s up to you if you wish to go down this costly route, which doesn’t guarantee you will have ADSL, you could end up with same problem as the current line. Option you may wish to look at is, getting your ISDN converted to analogue line, which will cost £50 + Vat on your BT phone bill, then once converted you will need to let us know, we will place another order and if order is successful BT will convert your line over to ADSL and we hope that should work, if it doesn’t then you would need to get ISDN back on the line and again this would cost. We are not recommending this to you, it’s your decision.”

[I don’t like the fact that BT in effect requires me to go down various experimental routes and make tough judgement calls and key tradeoff decisions, when I don’t have all the facts at my fingertips!!!]

24. 08 July 2004 17:09 I finally play my ‘last resort’/trump card, which I was hoping not to have to do (I really wanted to pursue this as a plain vanilla customer, not as someone ‘with connections’).  Through my connections, I email someone I’ve met pretty high up the chain in the BT Broadband world, saying

“… I don’t understand why the BT engineer couldn’t have said ‘gee, this is tough: maybe we can install aNEW phone line that follows a shorter route, or re-purpose your OTHER (ISDN) line” or “let’s think about this’ instead of ‘No way. Bye.’ [following N months, or is that years, of waiting for this] … Kind of makes you wonder. Still no “ownership”, no “engagement”, no “responsibility” for the issues. … Since my neighbours have it, it MUST be possible technically for me to have it too! OK, so I’ll pay for a new line to be installed– big deal, what do I care? ; it’s not the cost, it’s the degrees of uncertainty and negotiation that I no longer have the patience for. Even NDO implies (nay, says directly) that I have to take all the risk, install a new line that may still not work, etc.”
 
25. My BT contact is about to go away for a while but kindly agrees to have this investigated upon return, meanwhile reminding me of a passage from BB4MK queries to BT, in particular:

“ISDN conversions during the trial are a complex matter. Firstly, BT does not supply all of the ISDNs and therefore we cannot insist that other suppliers carry out conversion work for free. Secondly, we can’t guarantee that ISDN customers will be able to keep their numbers in the event that broadband service can’t be provided and they return to ISDN. This is particularly disruptive for businesses.”

[once again, I’m a little taken aback by us customers having to make tricky judgement calls based on info we haven’t got!!]

26. 20th July 2004 17:55 – my BT contact gets back to me precisely as promised, informing me that the lines have been tested, but regrettably the decibel loss on my ISDN line is 77dB, and my normal/analog line the loss is 77.1dB, both beyond the acceptable threshold for ADSL in the current trial, but that customers in my shoes will be the subject of a specific policy/course of action to be decided in late September, and that my case will remain well in focus on the radar screen. Also, my BT contact points out “Therefore it would not be sensible to cancel your ISDN and put this line forward for the trial.”

27. 21st July 2004 – Realising that I’d better KEEP my ISDN line which, alas, has been in danger of expiring because the bill is overdue (but until now I didn’t care because I thought I’d just let it die and switch over to ADSL on my other main phone line!), I finally accept TOTAL DEFEAT, and phone up the BT bill payment line, suggesting that I’d now agree to pay my quarterly ISDN/2e (busineess tariff) by direct debit.  But why do I have a business tariff?  I can’t even remember.  So I ask them if I could switch to a residential tariff.
BT Business can’t deal with residential tariffs, so they hand me over to a residential tariff person (who regrettably has much less technical expertise).  They make a few enquiries and tell me that my line is incapable of supporting ‘Home Highway’ (residential tariff): too far away from the exchange.  So they pass me back to the Business Tariff people.  I’m finally (again) talking to the Business Tariff people about getting my bill paid by direct debit, and I sigh into the phone what a shame it is that my neighbours can get ADSL but I can’t.

BT ISDN Business Tariff guy: “Wait a minute, your NEIGHBOURS can get ADSL but you can’t”

ME: “yes… that’s the old problem here in Loughton, with ancient lines that are laid differently depending on when your house was built”

BT guy: “hang on… let me talk to one of my mates to see if there’s anything we can do about this…”

[several minutes later…]

BT guy: “ok, we can get your ISDN line upgraded to ADSL”

ME: “Excuse me?” 

BT guy: “we can get your ISDN line upgraded to ADSL”

ME: “but I’ve just been through a long saga about this, and have been told it can’t be done, because at 77db I’m over the ADSL threshold.”

BT guy: “well, I’m not sure how it works for residential lines, but on a business tariff we can just boost your signal at the local exchange, and bring it to acceptable limits”

ME [silently incredulous – ‘boost my signal’… duh… so how come no one has said that before]: “OK, sign me up”

[step 27 is shortened quite a bit – in fact I was on the phone for 54 minutes in between various departments, sitting on hold, etc… this ‘BT guy’ is my new hero… he was determined to get to the bottom of things and leave me as a happy customer, and this without any ‘string-pulling’, just a cold call from me as a plain vanilla customer, albeit one on a business tariff]

28. Diary constraints prevent me from synchronize with a BT engineer until 16th August, but I don’t mind after all this time, a few more weeks is fine with me… and I’m definitely keen to see how it goes.  Stay tuned…

July 20, 2004

Jon’s Radio: Feedster/Bloglines citation bookmarklets
Feedster’s Scott Rafer wrote to point out that there is a URL syntax for assembling the conversation around a blog post … drag this link … [Feedster Citations or Bloglines Citations] to your toolbar, and you can have one-click access to the conversations around any blog post you’re currently viewing. … This suggests to me that conversation tracking is becoming more deterministic. Excellent!

Nice pointer, Jon – this is a highly significant step, IMHO, because it enables an’orthogonal slice of the pie’ view, so to speak, i.e. semi-independent or parallel blog posts that in fact refer to each other or deal with the same topic can in principle be viewed as if they were a discussion thread. Not exactly, but the principle is a good one. Sometimes discussion threads are more appropriate, and sometimes blog posts are more appropriate, but each has kind of existed in a separate world, and this looks like the first steps towards harmonization, or at least letting end-users decide how to view and link conversations.

July 20, 2004

Jon’s Radio: Feedster/Bloglines citation bookmarklets
Feedster’s Scott Rafer wrote to point out that there is a URL syntax for assembling the conversation around a blog post … drag this link … [Feedster Citations or Bloglines Citations] to your toolbar, and you can have one-click access to the conversations around any blog post you’re currently viewing. … This suggests to me that conversation tracking is becoming more deterministic. Excellent!

Nice pointer, Jon – this is a highly significant step, IMHO, because it enables an’orthogonal slice of the pie’ view, so to speak, i.e. semi-independent or parallel blog posts that in fact refer to each other or deal with the same topic can in principle be viewed as if they were a discussion thread. Not exactly, but the principle is a good one. Sometimes discussion threads are more appropriate, and sometimes blog posts are more appropriate, but each has kind of existed in a separate world, and this looks like the first steps towards harmonization, or at least letting end-users decide how to view and link conversations.

July 20, 2004

Jon’s Radio: Feedster/Bloglines citation bookmarklets
Feedster’s Scott Rafer wrote to point out that there is a URL syntax for assembling the conversation around a blog post … drag this link … [Feedster Citations or Bloglines Citations] to your toolbar, and you can have one-click access to the conversations around any blog post you’re currently viewing. … This suggests to me that conversation tracking is becoming more deterministic. Excellent!

Nice pointer, Jon – this is a highly significant step, IMHO, because it enables an’orthogonal slice of the pie’ view, so to speak, i.e. semi-independent or parallel blog posts that in fact refer to each other or deal with the same topic can in principle be viewed as if they were a discussion thread. Not exactly, but the principle is a good one. Sometimes discussion threads are more appropriate, and sometimes blog posts are more appropriate, but each has kind of existed in a separate world, and this looks like the first steps towards harmonization, or at least letting end-users decide how to view and link conversations.